The New England Patriots boast an incredibly balanced offense and clearly defined roles for most of their skill players, resulting in one of the most impressive offensive groups we’ve seen under head coach Bill Belichick.
There are three players expected to be every-down players in Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and Rob Gronkowski. There is a running back always on the field in James White, Mike Gillislee, or Dion Lewis. And then there’s a fifth skill position shared by Danny Amendola, Dwayne Allen, James Develin, and Phillip Dorsett, depending on the down and distance.
The production has been outstanding, even as some players miss time with injuries. Cooks is on pace for a career-high 1,245 yards from scrimmage, while Gronkowski (1,193 YFS) and Amendola (1,001) are also on pace to exceed the 1,000 yard milestone. James White (979) and Chris Hogan (976) are close, too, with Mike Gillislee (787) and Dion Lewis (451) supplementing the production out of the backfield.
And so when the offense has five different players on the field capable of being “the guy” in the offense, opposing defenses are unable dedicate all of their resources to any one or two players without giving up a favorable one-on-one to another Patriots skill player. This mismatch is incredibly apparent during high-leverage snaps on 3rd or 4th down or in the red zone.
Teams have been double-covering Cooks on these plays so his targets and receptions are lower than his teammates, and while I think the Patriots need to find a way to get him more involved it’s hard to argue with the results. Gronkowski, Hogan, White, and Amendola all have 10 or more receptions on these plays, a testament to their ability to get open and for Tom Brady to find them quickly.
The depth at the position is why the Patriots are able to continue to move down the field, even if a player like Gronkowski is declared out just hours before kickoff. Against the Buccaneers, Amendola continued his excellent season as a reliable and clutch target for Brady.
“Danny played great, he always does,” Brady said about Amendola after the game. “He has had such a great year and I am just so proud of him. He is so tough. I've got such a great group of teammates and Danny is someone I just love playing with. I know Gronk was trying to go, he just didn't make it on this short time frame but hopefully with the long break, he can be ready next week.”
“Josh [McDaniels] always does a great job,” Brady added about the Patriots offensive coordinator. “He is such a great coach, he always finds a way to help us create some space.”
And the Patriots will continue to draw up ways for their receivers to get open to stress the defense and Brady will continue to find the open player.
Even if there is a decline in production from these receivers over the course of the year (and fingers crossed that everyone remains healthy), this has a chance to be the most balanced offense in Bill Belichick’s tenure.
The most 800+ yard players (arbitrary average of 50 yards per game) Belichick’s Patriots have had in a single season is four, a feat they accomplished in 2008, 2011, and 2014. The 2017 Patriots are on pace for five players to easily break that barrier, with Gillislee a close sixth, showing the high floor and high upside of each of their skill players.
Add in Dion Lewis and the Patriots have seven players averaging 5 or more touch opportunities (targets + rushing attempts) per game. In years past, perhaps just three or maybe four skill players on the field at any given time would legitimate targets for Brady- no one was afraid of Michael Hoomanawanui as a receiving threat.
The 2017 Patriots offense is different. Every single player is a potential target with a real chance to carry the offense.